One of the hardest things for me to come to terms with in my adult life is that abusers aren't 100%-bad figures of pure villainry. That somebody can both do good things for you and abuse you, and if they do both, it doesn't diminish the fact that they abused you or make it any less wrong. I still haven't come to terms with it, honestly.
In this particular situation, I feel that I'm in a no-win situation. I suspect many of my comrades in the loosely knit movement to redistribute wealth and power in the tech industry feel the same way. I have a choice between:
- boosting the signal for Amelia's message, which contributes to the abuse that is currently being heaped on Shanley for separate reasons -- in fact, the reasons that she called out an abuser herself and had a past romantic relationship with another abuser -- even though that's obviously not Amelia's intent; or:
- remaining silent, which, given the degree to which I've supported Shanley in the past, sends the message that I approve of abuse when it's from someone who I personally like and whose work I like, which is not a message I agree with.
I'm choosing in this case to not be silent. I believe Amelia and I support her unequivocally in her decision to tell her story. I don't think the fact that Shanley has abused people means that she's beyond redemption as a person. It also doesn't negate the value of her writing or of the writing by other people that she's published in Model View Culture. We can accept that Linux is a useful piece of software while refusing to tolerate Linus Torvalds' abuse of contributors in public; we can also accept that Shanley has done incredibly valuable work while refusing to tolerate her abuse of colleagues, or anybody else, in private. Trustworthy leadership is important. That means that we shouldn't accept someone who can't or won't treat others with respect as the leader of a software project, no matter how good we suppose his technical judgment to be. And that also means that we shouldn't accept someone who quietly abuses people in private as the leader of a social justice organization, no matter how good we suppose her activist skills to be.
Some people are choosing this moment to question whether Shanley sincerely believes in the work she does. I have no doubt in her sincerity. I know what it's like to get so carried away with doing what you think is right that you forget to consider the feelings of other people. That's a reason, not an excuse.
We can be a stronger community if Shanley chooses to take responsibility for her actions towards Amelia -- and anybody else, as the case may be -- and model what accountability looks like. Of course, whether her apology is adequate is up to Amelia to decide.
I also want to emphasize that there is no excuse whatsoever for the scurrilous harassment campaign revolving around media scrutiny of her past sex life that Shanley has been subject to over the past week. What's being done to her is an attack against her as well as a warning to every other woman who speaks up in tech. We have to get better at coming to terms with the fact that a person who has been abused, who, even, is experiencing ongoing abuse, can also abuse others. So just as Shanley's behavior towards Amelia does not in any way warrant the torrent of abuse that Shanley is receiving for being a woman with independent opinions, that torrent of abuse does not justify her in violating other people's boundaries. Our analyses need to be complex enough for us to condemn the misogynist terror campaign that targets every woman who dares to speak in public, without making the victims of these campaigns into unimpeachable heroes, beyond criticism.
Because when you hold somebody up as a person who can do no wrong, you're dehumanizing them, just as much as those who cast feminist women as evil misandrist sluts do. Part of being human is the capacity to do wrong; to hurt other people; to hurt other people a lot. The part we get a choice about is how we deal with it when it happens.
Comments are screened. I will assume it's OK to unscreen all comments unless you state otherwise. If you ask me not to unscreen your comment, I'll delete it after reading, since it irritates me to have screened comments sitting around :)
Edited to add: To the sockpuppet commenter whose username is a word cleverly spelled backwards: uoy kcuf.
Edited to add, 2: In case it needs to be said again, fuck GamerGate; Milo Yiannopoulos is the scum of the earth; and fuck everyone who's linking to this post in an attempt to make the analysis less complex instead of more. I didn't write about my pain and heartbreak so you could use it for your bullshit harassment campaign. I believe that people can be better than their pasts, and I'm still holding out hope that Shanley will prove she is rather than sinking into the same defensive tactics we've seen from so many. Amelia said she didn't want her words twisted and used in your petty little hate campaign, so show some motherfucking respect.
Edited to add, 3: To the person who asked me not to unscreen their comment: I wasn't going to unscreen it anyway.